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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
It’s essential to our faith to have had some personal experience of the risen Jesus. __________________________________________________________________________________
FEBRUARY 7TH, 2016: FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
I Corinthians 15:1-11
Today’s I Corinthians pericope contains the earliest account of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances we possess, predating our earliest gospel narratives by more than ten years. Though scholars constantly study and comment on it, most Christians have little familiarity with it. Usually we combine the different (often contradictory) apparition passages and create a unified account of our own making, leaving out whatever doesn’t fit into our personal narrative.
But if we zero in just on today’s reading, we surface some interesting traditions. Though later gospel accounts will refer to the risen Jesus “appearing to Cephas, then to the Twelve,” this is the only place which speaks about him/her “appearing to more than five hundred brothers at once,” and also mentions a unique appearance to James.
It’s clear that when we join these first verses of I Corinthians 15 with the last chapter(s) of the four gospels, we have at least a half dozen different versions of what happened at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, and during the next few days (or weeks.) If our faith in the risen Jesus is rooted only in these narratives, we’re in trouble. They’d never stand up in a court of law.
That’s why Paul’s reference to his own encounter with this “new creation” is the most important part of the pericope. “Last of all,” he writes, “as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.” If he/she hadn’t personally appeared to the Apostle, the other apparitions he lists wouldn’t have been significant.
It’s essential to our faith to have had some personal experience of the risen Jesus. Though, as we know from Paul’s letters and the gospels, the early Christian community was convinced the “normal” way to achieve that experience was by participating in the Eucharist, followers of Jesus also discovered they could encounter the Christ in quite unexpected situations.
Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus provides a classic example of such an encounter. Narrated three times in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s meeting with the risen Jesus not only was unexpected, it ran completely counter to “form.” The Apostle wasn’t travelling to the Syrian capital to go shopping or visit some friends: he was going there to persecute followers of Jesus. When the Jesus of faith appeared to him, he was an active enemy of that faith! Obviously the condition of one’s soul or mind is never a prerequisite for encountering the risen Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah discovers this in today’s first reading. Is this well-known chapter 6 call narrative, the prophet tries to sidestep Yahweh’s call by pointing out, “I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” In other words, the young man wonders, “How can I be your mouthpiece, proclaiming your holy oracles, when unholy words usually come from my mouth?” To Isaiah’s surprise, Yahweh not only calls, Yahweh also makes carrying out that call a possibility.
It’s important to note that many Lucan scholars regard today’s gospel pericope as a post-resurrection event which the evangelist – for theological reasons - has read back into Jesus’ historical ministry. (We probably see the chronologically correct narrative in John 21.) If that’s correct, then Simon is relating to the risen Jesus, not the historical Jesus. And it’s in encountering the risen Jesus that this frustrated fisherman is led to say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I a sinful man.” Yet that declaration of sinfulness doesn’t stop Jesus from calling Simon “to catch people” instead of fish.
Today’s readings certainly fly in the face of the non-biblical belief that we have a better chance of sur-facing the risen Jesus after we come out of the confessional than before we go into the confessional.
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